What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a new recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
When I wrote about comedian Harrison Greenbaum co-hosting the first-ever official Times Square live New Year's Eve webcast, perhaps a few of you said, who's this kid? But if you lived in New York City's comedy scene in 2009, you probably knew exactly who he was, because he performed seemingly everywhere last year. Did you know, however, that he really is still a kid, fresh out of college? Did you know that he interned for the Internet's Julia Allison and NonSociety and lived to tell about it? Did you know he's already a member of the Friars Club? Hey. How about I stop asking questions without giving you answers. To the Q&A!
Name: Harrison Greenbaum
Arrival date: Dec. 29, 2008
Arrived from: Boston
When and where did you start performing comedy? I was actually a magician before becoming a stand-up comedian. I began doing magic when I was 5 and started doing comedy magic professionally when I was 12, performing at various private functions and public shows around Long Island, where I grew up. In college, however, I realized I was using magic as a vehicle for my comedy — my passion was really for the comedy and the joke writing. If I use that as my starting point — that shift from comedy magic to stand-up comedy — I've been performing stand-up comedy since 2004. My development as a stand-up comic was definitely in Boston.
What was your best credit before moving here? While living in Boston, I performed in the Boston Comedy Festival and the New York Underground Comedy Festival, had a weekly show at the Sage Theater in Times Square (I started it while on summer break in New York and continued to co-produce it from Boston, booking the acts, managing the website, and helping with key decisions, sometimes doing the show by jumping on a 4 p.m. bus to New York the night of the show, getting back on the bus by 12:30 a.m., and being back in Boston by 5 a.m. so that I could make my 9 a.m. classes that day), and was a regional semi-finalist in RooftopComedy.com's National College Comedy Competition. I was also (and still am) writing for MAD Magazine (I had my first major article published while I was a senior at Harvard).
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? I was still trying to make up my mind between moving to NYC or L.A. post-graduation when I got the opportunity to go to L.A. as part of a school trip my senior year of college. We had nights free to do whatever we wanted, so I spent my nights performing at the comedy clubs in the area. While at the Improv, I had the opportunity to pick Joe Rogan's brain about whether or not I should move to NYC or L.A. and he had some really good advice: "You move to New York to create and develop your product (your comedy); you move to L.A., once you're ready, to sell it." (I'm paraphrasing a bit.) I think he was dead-on. Not only are there more comedy clubs and alternative rooms in New York than there are in L.A., but they're closer together and more reachable by public transportation. As a result, you can get more stage time here not only because there are more clubs and alt venues but because you physically/geographically can do more spots each night. I've done 10 spots on a busy Saturday while in New York (all without driving); that's just not possible in L.A. There are also mores places in New York to work on your stuff away from the eyes of the industry, which means you have more opportunity to take chances with your comedy. On top of that, my family lives in Long Island, so I can see my family whenever I want. That's definitely a huge bonus.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? I actually didn't make the move to New York City until I had enough paying gigs lined up for it to make sense to make the move. During the months leading up to my college graduation, I started lining up dates in New York, so I moved back home to Long Island with performances in and around the city already scheduled. That was June 2008. By December 2008, I was doing enough paid gigs that the move to New York City made sense financially, artistically, and career-wise. (Financially, I could do more gigs if I lived in the city, especially ones that were booked last minute, and this increase in revenue from those gigs balanced out — if not exceeded — the increase in living expenses I would have. Artistically, moving to New York meant I had an increased ability to get on stage, plus being able to live alone in my own apartment gave me the space and freedom to write more, to create more, and to live a comedian's hours without disturbing anyone. Career-wise, living in the city made it easier to have meetings, rehearsals, and auditions during the day and shows at night, which was important, too.) As a result, I moved to New York City with paid gigs already lined up — in fact, the day I moved into my apartment, I had to take a break from unpacking to do a paid spot at a comedy club.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? It's extraordinary how different the Boston scene feels from the New York scene. I truly love the New York scene, but definitely feel fortunate to have developed in Boston first. Boston has a really tight-knit community and is really supportive of young comics and unique comedy. There's not as much pressure to be commercial. Moreover, because I went to Harvard and lived on campus, I was literally a three- or four-minute walk from the Comedy Studio, an amazing place for a comic to develop his or her act and persona. That being said, I think New York is definitely a logical next step from Boston as you develop as a comic. I did more than 700 shows in New York in 2009. There's no way you can get even close to that amount of stage time in Boston. Not only that, but the situations you are performing in and the audiences you are performing for seem to be much more varied in New York. New York is definitely more competitive, too, which can be motivational as long as you don't let it get to you. I've tried to bring some of that supportive Boston spirit with me to New York, although sometimes New York comics have been weirded out by that. I remember a comic thanking me a little too much for helping him out with a few tags for some jokes he was working on — when I told him that it was no big deal (it really wasn't), he responded, "This is honestly the first time someone has ever done that for me." In Boston, people do that all the time; in New York, comics tend to be more self-centered (not necessarily in a selfish way, but in the sense that their attention is very focused on their own act and not on the acts going on around them), so I guess it happens much less frequently. Things are also faster and more fierce here in New York and I love that. In terms of opportunities (especially commercial ones), New York is also ahead of Boston, so that's another tally in the "New York" column.
Do you already have an "only in New York City" moment yet? It seems like that's all I've had — living here is a continuous adventure. I co-hosted the Times Square New Year's Eve World Wide Webcast recently, so got to spend my first New Year's Eve in Times Square this year. There was over a million people from around the world gather in Times Square to celebrate with each other and to be happy together. When the ball dropped, the confetti started falling, and "New York, New York" started to play, I fell in love with New York all over again.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? Get on stage as much as you possibly can. Network. Follow up. Stand out. Work as hard as you can and then work harder.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? My passion is stand-up, so anything I will be doing will be in service of that. I'd like to be doing more television and film. I'd like to have a comedy special (or three) on a network like Comedy Central or HBO. I'd like to write and star in a sitcom. I'd also like to be doing more in terms of hosting television shows and shows on the Web. I hope my act continues to get stronger, the number of fans I have continues to increase, and the comedy I create begins to have more and more of an impact on the art form itself and on the world in general.
Where can you see him in January 2010? Greenbaum performs regularly at Carolines, Comix, and all the major clubs in New York City; has his weekly Sage Stand-Up show at Hurley's Saloon (232 W. 48th St., betw. Broadway & 8th Ave.) at 10 p.m. Thursdays, and will be at the Friars Club on Jan. 19, JACKPOT at Crash Mansion on Jan. 26, and Joe's Pub on Jan. 30. Here's a clip to show you a little bit about what he's about. Roll it!
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com